Dueling Fools

Dueling Fools
More Jobs or Higher Gates?
March 10, 1999

Steve Jobs Bull's Pen
by Bill Barker (tmfmax@aol.com)

Steve Jobs vs. Bill Gates. An argument that has occurred countless times in between throws of the twelve-sided dice in late-night Dungeons & Dragons sessions now comes to Fooldom. "How do you settle this celebrity deathmatch?" you ask. Well, as The Onion (my primary research tool for this Duel) reported recently, having granted himself enough Dexterity and Charisma points to qualify as a demigod, Bill Gates defeats all foes if I allow this Duel to follow standard D&D scorekeeping. So even though the concept that Gates and Jobs are truly adversaries is hopelessly outdated in the first place, I'll play along and ask readers to measure these two titans along the proper local scale -- Bill Gates vs. Steven Jobs: Who is more of a Fool?

There is a handy score sheet for just such a question, and it hearkens back to the reason why we're here and you're reading this in the first place. Running along the top of most pages in Fooldom (including this one) are the words "Educate, Amuse, Enrich," which I think provide as good a battlefield as any other for how to measure Bill Gates vs. Steve Jobs. On these three measures, then, I ask you, dear reader, who is more Foolish?

I'll just give up on the "Enrich" side of this three-pronged test -- I'm no masochist, after all. Gates wins that one hands down for all the reasons that Yi-Hsin will probably clobber you over the head with. Before moving on though, it must be mentioned that Steve Jobs is not exactly a slouch in the enrichment department. To quickly recount a bit of history, Steve Jobs was the co-founder of Apple Computer Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL), building it up into a multi-billion dollar business from its humble origins in his adoptive parents' garage. Jobs was the force behind bringing the graphical user interface and the mouse to the masses. The revolutionary Macintosh is arguably the most important step in the evolution of the personal computer.

Shortly after Jobs was ousted from Apple way back in 1985 by John Sculley, Apple lost its way and drifted from top-dog in the industry to tweener and ultimately to also-ran. While Apple was crumbling without him, Steve Jobs founded NeXT Software and bought Pixar Animation Studios (Nasdaq: PIXR) from Star Wars creator George Lucas, building it into the second-biggest feature film animator in the country. (See the Pixar Duel for more info.) Since returning to Apple in 1996 through the sale of NeXT to Apple, and becoming its interim CEO in 1997, the share price of Apple has roughly tripled, easily keeping pace with Microsoft's upward trajectory over the same time period.

Nevertheless, despite some relative outperformance over the recent past, I'm not going to blow my credibility by arguing that Jobs has come close to Gates in the wealth creation department. Microsoft, of course, has done a brilliant job of copying all the innovations of Jobs and Apple and making scads of money for itself, Bill Gates, and the other Microsoft shareholders. I dare say, Gates may well have created more wealth than any person this century.

Moving on to the second Foolish dimension, "Educate," it would appear to me that there is little contest between the emphasis that Jobs has put on education and the level to which Gates has attended to it. Apple has always had a corner on the educational market and, remarkably, to this day it is Apple that has the majority of the country's schools using its hardware and software. Come to think of it, that's not remarkable at all, as Jobs' motivation has been to change the world, while Gates's has been to control it. Given this dichotomy in driving forces, it is no surprise that Apple has continued to appeal to this very important, albeit not terribly profitable, niche. It appears that Gates is now setting his sites on taking over the educational side of things as well. This, while of course terribly frightening, does not change the fact that Jobs has done significantly more in the field of education than has Gates. Foolish tally: Gates 1, Jobs 1.

Which brings us to the tiebreaker: "Amuse." Here, again, there is no contest. For some bizarre reason, if you flip through your copy of Rule Breakers, Rule Makers, on page 325 you will see that Tom Gardner refers to his Rule Maker Microsoft as having the brand attribute of humor. Do you, like me, wonder where in the world that idea comes from?

Addressing the amuse criteria, tech gossiper Robert X. Cringely wrote:

"A good friend of mine was once told by a Microsoft executive, 'We can't decide whether to become your customer or to put you out of business.' It's not as though my friend had any right of survival in the eyes of Microsoft unless that survival somehow helped Redmond. Contrast this with Apple, a company that has jerked its customers around plenty, too, but has somehow managed to do so with a consistent attitude of playfulness. 'Where are the jokes?' Steve Jobs used to ask when looking over proofs of the early Macintosh documentation. 'I want more jokes.' Not only is Steve Jobs no more kind than Bill Gates, he's probably less kind, and always has been. But Steve knows the value of a good joke and Bill still doesn't."

Can you think of a humorous Microsoft commercial? Or a humorous Microsoft anything? (You can't count the failed attempt at "Bob," since that wasn't meant to be humorous. Or a failure.) With Jobs' indisputable superiority at being ready, willing, and able to amuse, we see the final Foolish tally is Jobs 2, Gates 1.